Paidi O Se: Say it again, Sam -- Cork can prove me right this time
A successful league can be the springboard for Cork to achieve bigger things, says Páidí ó Sé
W HEN, in a moment of midsummer madness, I tipped Cork to win the All-Ireland last year, I was called a "cute hoor" (and a lot worse) in all parts of the country. There were many who said the best motivation for any Kerry team was to write them off, and that I was merely setting Cork up for a fall.
There are those who might not believe me, but I genuinely felt that Cork had what it took to get their hands on the Sam Maguire after their displays against Kerry in the Munster final and the replay last year.
Now, as our spirits rise with the advent of spring, there is expectation in the air again, and once more -- at the risk of creating a certain sense of deja vu -- I expect Cork to take the All-Ireland in 2010.
It is vital for them that they go aggressively for the National League and the confidence they will gain if they win that title will be of immense benefit to them. They have the players, they have the skill, they have the physical attributes needed, they have the athleticism and the thing they need most is deep belief in their ability to go the whole way. That is why they have to go helter-skelter for the league and let no obstacle stop them.
After Cork, the other teams to watch out for (apart from Kerry) are Mayo, Cork and Dublin, and we might just see Down and Kildare getting into the frame. I have the feeling that the Tyrone bubble has burst, and I believe Armagh won't make much of a show either.
For Kerry, the outlook is very uncertain. They have been beaten in the first two league matches, and they're going to find the going hard against Derry in Tralee today. Any county that loses four players of the calibre of Darragh ó Sé, Tadhg Kennelly. Tommy Walsh and -- more than likely -- Mike McCarthy, has a lot of ground to make up. Any one of those could have been man of the match in last year's All-Ireland final.
Players like Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper, magnificent as they are, depend on getting the type of ball which Darragh ó Sé excelled at delivering.
Good fielding isn't enough on its own -- effective distribution is vital. Micheal Quirke and Anthony Maher are good fielders and I like the look of young John Buckley of Crokes, who took my eye in last year's county final and has the gimp of a footballer.
Kerry have to resolve their midfield problem if they are to win the All-Ireland, and that is why I believe the league is more important as a testing ground for Kerry than as an end in itself. They might try playing Donaghy in midfield with either Barry John Walsh or Declan O'Sullivan in at full-forward.
It will be fascinating to watch the Kerry management ring the changes through the league campaign and I feel sure they will have the same philosophy as my own, which is to experiment and to innovate in an attempt to plug the gap left by the magnificent four.
All of which points to another bit of a struggle today, despite home advantage. Derry, for a strong, big and very physical team, tend to play a short game, but I believe they should play more direct football. The brothers Paddy and Eoin Bradley are fine footballers but they are inclined to "play into themselves" too much.
Derry are one of the few teams in recent times who have the ability to really put it up to Kerry. The county always produced players of height and physical strength, such as the Diamond brothers, Henry and Larry, Anthony Tohill, and in the 1950s the great Jim McKeever.
The late Raymond Smith, in his fine book The Football Immortals, devoted an entire chapter to the rivalry between McKeever and Mick O'Connell.
All our best wishes go to my old colleague John Egan who, I'm told, is not well right now. John is 58 and, of course, captained the Kerry team that lost to Offaly in the 1982 five-in-a-row final. He has six All-Ireland medals, and my Dublin rivals in the 1970s always regard him as the finest of our Kerry team. Robbie Kelleher, who has adopted Ventry as his home from home, will join with me in wishing the very best to John, and a speedy recovery.